The Home Affairs Bureau has said that organisations applying for the pilot Funding Scheme for student exchanges in “Belt and Road” countries should take safety into account when deciding on the tours.

The scheme was launched on Monday by the Home Affairs Bureau and the Committee on the Promotion of Civic Education (CPCE) to support registered non-profits or statutory bodies to organise, on a matching grant basis, exchange programmes in the Belt and Road countries for Hong Kong youth.

War-torn Syria, Iraq and several other countries under Security Bureau outbound travel alerts, appear on a list of destinations where subsidies are available.

A Belt and Road map and list of countries included in the scheme. Photo: Gov HK.

A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Bureau told HKFP that the list of countries in the scheme leaflet was compiled according to information published on the Belt and Road section of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council’s website, where countries such as Syria are included.

“When submitting an application, the organisations should decide which country they wish to carry out exchange activities according to various circumstances, including safety aspect[s],” the spokesperson said.

“In assessing the funding applications, the CPCE will consider – amongst other factors – the feasibility of the proposed tour, its insurance coverage and contingency plan. The applicant organisations should take heed of travel advice given by government bureaux and departments in planning their trip and pay attention to the participants’ personal safety,” she said.

The spokesperson said that the applicant organisations should keep in view the latest outbound travel alerts when planning and executing the exchange programme, as the status of various countries will be updated from time to time.

Safety a factor

It added that the CPCE will also take the outbound travel alert in force into account when vetting the funding applications.

“In view of [the] public interest on this point, we shall remind applicant organisations once again to take into account the safety aspect of the exchange tour through various channels.”

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim also said that the Education Bureau would consider different factors, namely the interests of students, academic value, safety, connections between governments and educational networks in choosing student trip destinations.

Ng added that since the scheme was only starting, more experience was required. He also said he hoped that the CPCE would discuss the issue further.

A banner for the scheme. Photo: Gov HK.

Syria has been at civil war since 2011. The Security Bureau issued a black outbound travel alert in April of that year, suggesting Hongkongers avoid all travel due to severe threats against travellers. Travel insurance may not be honoured for trips to countries where such alerts are in place.

The bureau has also issued red outbound travel alerts on four other countries included in the programme. It has urged the public to adjust travel plans and avoid nonessential travel to Egypt, Lebanon and Pakistan, listing suicide bombings as a threat. Nepal remains on the red alert list as a powerful earthquake shook the capital Kathmandu last year.

The Beijing-led One Belt, One Road initiative is designed to strengthen cooperation between countries along the ancient silk road and a new “maritime silk road”.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.